Colo. nonprofit helps build Afghan school for deaf

By Dan Elliott
Associated Press Writer / June 22, 2010

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DENVER—A Colorado nonprofit is partnering with an Afghan organization to build a school in Kabul for deaf children, who often face a bleak future with no communication skills or education.

Denver-based Mountain2Mountain is working with the Afghan National Association for the Deaf to build the school on five acres donated by the Afghan government. The association currently operates in rented space and needs more room, said Shannon Galpin, founder and president of Mountain2Mountain.

"With the deaf, it's beyond dire," Galpin said. "They have no access to education because there is no sign language, there is no communication."

The school will accommodate up to 1,000 students in kindergarten through high school and will include a program to train more teachers for deaf students. The association is also working on a version of sign language based on spoken Afghan languages and international sign language.

Galpin said the school could be finished by the end of the summer. Work on the perimeter wall began Tuesday.

InnoVida Holdings of Miami and International Home Finance and Development of Denver are donating materials and services worth about $300,000 for the buildings and a perimeter wall.

A third company, Quality Management Construction of Afghanistan, is providing construction management services at a discounted rate, Galpin said.

Mountain2Mountain has to raise another $400,000 for construction, plumbing, wiring and furnishings, she said.

Galpin, who lives in Breckenridge, founded Mountain2Mountain in 2006 to advocate for rights and opportunities for women and girls. She said she was motivated by the birth of her daughter in 2004 and by her experience as a rape victim as a young woman.

"I realized I could not raise my daughter in a world where rape and oppression was accepted," she said.

Galpin decided to focus on Afghanistan because women have few rights there and because rape is used as a means of control and a weapon of war, she said.

She settled on the school for the deaf -- which will teach both girls and boys -- after visiting the existing school on a trip to Afghanistan.

Women and deaf people of both sexes face similar obstacles in Afghanistan because some people see no point in giving them an education, Galpin said.

"If (deaf children) don't go to this school, they literally have no way of learning how to communicate with anyone else," Galpin said. "They will probably never leave the family home. The majority will not find work unless they are lucky enough to find an apprenticeship in some kind of crafts or with a mechanic."

Rafaat Ludin, CEO of International Home Finance and Development, said he joined the project because it's a good cause and because it lets his company and InnoVida demonstrate their prefabricated building panels and a tongue-and-groove brick that requires no mortar.

"A little bit of good will and a little bit of selfishness," he said.

Ludin said he is the son of a former Afghan diplomat, and the family was posted to Germany when the Afghan government fell in the 1970s, so they didn't go home.

Ludin now lives in Denver. He said he started his company in 2007 after a stroke prompted him to find a different job with less travel and stress, and his wife suggested doing something in Afghanistan.

"This is a really good project," he said of the school. "We would love to be part of something that is valuable."




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